More than 1,600 Pittsburgh high school students support adoption of Student Bill of Rights

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PITTSBURGH, Pa.—TeenBloc, a coalition of student leaders and organizers in Pittsburgh’s high schools whose purpose is to raise the student voice and create positive change, has reached out to more than 1,600 students at Pittsburgh Public Schools’ nine high schools to rally support for a Student Bill of Rights.

“We’re pretty excited,” said Amma Ababio, a Pittsburgh Allderdice student who is leading this effort. “We know that we still have to work to do, but this is a huge milestone that deserves celebrating,” said Ababio.

This Bill of Rights was developed by more than 80 student leaders in a series of workshops and is modeled on the Student Bill of Rights found in New York City’s Department of Public Education Discipline Code.

The Campaign

Students began their campaign with rally on Oct. 14 at the Hillman Auditorium in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. That rally began a month of activities where TeenBloc sought support for the Student Bill of Rights directly from other students within their school.  Their goal was to enlist approximately 25 percent of the high school population to support the Bill of Rights and they have reached that with the ratification cards they have collected.

Kendre Crawford Blue, a senior at Pittsburgh Milliones University Prep 6-12 and one of the student coordinators for the campaign, laid out why the students were asking for the proposed changes, “We have developed a Student Bill of Rights that if implemented, will guarantee students the basics we need to succeed.  And while I know the district has lost millions in funding from the state, most of the things we are asking for will not cost a penny.”

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The students plan to go to the board in December of 2013 to make a formal request for inclusion of their ratified Student Bill of Rights into appropriate policies at the monthly public hearing.

The Student Bill of Rights

Students have listed 10 rights they would like to see adopted by the school board and included within the student code of conduct that is currently being revised.

These rights are:

1. Right to Free Expression—Students want to be able to express ourselves in an official school newspaper, to circulate petitions, to conduct polls, to set-up information tables, to organize clubs, to sponsor speakers and activities, and to post notices on school bulletin boards.

2. Right to participate in decisions that affect our education—Students want opportunities to regularly discuss issues that impact our education with school board members, district administration, and school administration.

3. Right to equitable academic resources—Students want to make sure every student has the appropriate tools and the necessary supports needed to graduate, go to college or pursue a career.

4. Right to a socially, emotionally and physically and positive school climate— Students want to be in a positive learning environment that does not resemble a prison and where the fundamental dignity of all is protected.

5. Right to inclusive teaching and learning environments in our classrooms—Students want positive classrooms that feel safe, respectful and welcoming where everyone can learn.

6. Right to be treated with respect and diginity in our schools—Students want to go to schools free from bullying by students and adults. No student shall be discriminated against on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, language, national origin, religion, disability, or economic status. We want an independent administrator to evaluate student treatment, to provide appropriate training and counseling to students and school staff, and to help school leaders create cultures of respect for all students.

7. Right to effective teachers—We want to be educated by teachers who are knowledgeable about their discipline, who use various teaching strategies that contribute to a greater understanding of the subject matter, who are responsive to student input, and who are caring, supportive and culturally competent.

8. Right to positive school disciplinary policies and practices—We want to be disciplined on an individual basis. Group punishment for individual misdeeds shall not be permitted. Schools shall adopt positive forms of discipline to teach students appropriate social and behavioral skills

9. Right to equitable access to accelerated classes and academic counseling—We want to be able to participate in accelerated academic classes and have access to our school’s college counselor when we reach 9th grade. A full range of Advanced Placement classes shall be accessible to all students regardless of the school in which they attend. We want to receive early college and career focused interventions including but not limited to vocational apprenticeships, guidance on course selection, college selection, and entrance exam test preparation

10. Right to efficient transportation—Students want efficient and safe transportation to school and school events.

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The full list of the rights being asked for and the explanations for why the students want them can be found at http://www.aplusschools.org.  “We need these 10 rights to be adopted by the school board and included within the student code of conduct that is currently being revised,” said Amma Ababio, a junior at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School and the coordinator of the campaign.

Dara Ware-Allen, Assistant Superintendent for Student Support Services at Pittsburgh Public Schools attended the students’ rally in October and said, “Serving our students’ educational needs is why the Pittsburgh Public Schools exists.  We look forward to working with you in revising the Student Code of Conduct and finding ways to incorporate some if not all of what you’re asking for.”

A+ Schools is the community advocate and leader for educational equity and excellence in Pittsburgh Public Schools. It serves as a community force advancing the highest educational achievement and character development for every public school student. Its core purpose and focus of work is to increase educational equity in Pittsburgh schools.  TeenBloc (formerly known as Students Engaged in Leadership) is a coalition of student leaders and organizers in Pittsburgh’s high schools whose purpose is to raise the student voice and create positive change in Pittsburgh Public Schools. For more information, contact A+ Schools at 412-697-1298 or visit http://www.aplusschools.org.

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